Thu, 09 Feb 2023

The latest on the Birds: Youth is served at the quarterback position

Philadelphia Eagles
24 Jan 2023, 18:12 GMT+10

Youth is served at the quarterback position

A relaxed and eager - and always entertaining - Nick Sirianni met the media via teleconference on Monday afternoon from the NovaCare Complex and addressed a variety of topics as the Eagles dig into their preparation for Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers. Here is what Sirianni had to say ...

1. On injuries

The picture is a good one for the Eagles. Sirianni said he is "excited about the health of our football team," and that's a great feeling to have to start the week. Cornerback Avonte Maddox, out since suffering a toe injury in the Christmas Eve game against Dallas, will run around and go through some drills this week as the Eagles evaluate his chances to play against San Francisco. Sirianni said he was "hopeful" about Maddox, but that the talented cornerback had to show where he was physically before a more specific determination could be made. Wide receiver A.J. Brown "was going through a little something with his body that was hurting him" at the end of the win over the Giants, but the Eagles feel like he will be ready to go for the 49ers. And there was no mention of right tackle Lane Johnson, who played at a high level on Saturday as he returned from the groin injury that sidelined him, so that's a great thing. Johnson is set to go. The roster is healthy. Excellent news.

2. On the young quarterbacks

Jalen Hurts, in his third season, and Brock Purdy, the rookie sensation for San Francisco, take center stage in this one and their combined ages - 47 years, 203 days - make them the youngest starting combination in conference championship history. They actually met in the 2019 season - Hurts' Oklahoma Sooners beat Purdy's Iowa State Cyclones 42-41 as Purdy threw five touchdown passes in a comeback effort and Hurts had three touchdown passes and two touchdown runs - and Sirianni feels very strongly that Hurts, in his first NFC Championship Game, will seize the moment with his usual poise and approach to the game.

"Just because the moment is big doesn't mean (Jalen is) all of a sudden going to change who he's been for the past three years that he's been in Philadelphia. He's going to have that same demeanor. You just don't all of a sudden change just because the situation changes," Sirianni said. "That's what we think as a team, and I know Jalen, he's going to be locked in, and he's going to work and prepare every day to be ready for this game, and he's going to be ready to go. I know that. He's going to be that same calm, steady person that he is each and every week. You just don't automatically change. That's obviously a really important trait to have as your leader, as your quarterback, somebody that doesn't ride the waves of the season, doesn't ride the waves of a game. He stays steady and is truly in the moment of the next play."

As for Purdy, Sirianni is well aware of him since he played at Iowa State. Sirianni is friends with Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell, Sirianni's teammate at Mount Union College when the two played collegiately there.

"Just that he's a winner," Sirianni said of Purdy. "Obviously, I always follow Iowa State and their program because I have so many college teammates and roommates that coach there. Since Matt became the head coach at Iowa State, I've always followed them, and obviously stay in touch with Matt. But you saw what he did for that program, right. Matt is obviously a great head coach, but he got a great quarterback in Brock Purdy, and you saw what he did for that program. And all the things he did for them.

"I checked the score, Purdy had an awesome game, and they won again. That's what I notice with him, that he's a winner. Obviously when you're close with other coaches like that and you have conversations back and forth, this is going back to when Brock was at Iowa State, like, 'Hey, what are you guys doing on the tape right here, this looked good, this and that.' The common theme always from them is, 'Hey, we've got a quarterback that can lead the way and find the right place to go with the football consistently, who's just a playmaker.'"

3. On the San Francisco defensive scheme

Sirianni noted that the NFL's No. 1 (San Francisco) and 2 (Philadelphia) defenses, units that don't rely on a lot of blitzes or man-to-man coverage, are playing in the NFC Championship Game, likely making a reference to those who have been critical of the Eagles' defensive approach.

Sirianni understands that the 49ers are loaded with talent and coordinator DeMeco Ryans, the former Eagles linebacker and a candidate to be hired in a head coaching role in the weeks ahead, has the 49ers playing hard and very, very well.

"This is a talented team. Obviously, you mentioned those two guys (linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw), and I have a lot of respect for them," Sirianni said. "Then they have good players all across the defensive line headlined by (Nick) Bosa and (Arik) Armstead. Their corners, they have the guy from Kansas City (Charvarius Ward) that I thought was a really good player there last year as we were watching guys that were free agents. The safeties can really cause havoc in there." - Dave Spadaro, 7:57 PM, January 23, 2023

Jalen Hurts' transcendent performance has the Eagles within one win of Super Bowl

When describing Jalen Hurts' performance in the quarterback's first playoff win, Head Coach Nick Sirianni went to another sport.

Sirianni asked the media to name the greatest point guard in Sixers history and was told it is Hall of Famer Mo Cheeks. Sirianni cited how Hurts' ability to efficiently run an offense that scored 28 points in the first half, totaled 416 yards, amassed 26 first downs, converted a franchise-playoff-record-tying 71.4 percent of third downs, went 4-of-5 in the red zone, and not turn the ball over was like a point guard.

Sirianni then couldn't contain himself when explaining the intangibles Hurts brings to the table, evoking the name of the all-time great Michael Jordan.

"To have him out there is like - I know this is high praise, but to have him out there is like having - I shouldn't even go there - it's like having Michael Jordan out there. He's your leader. He's your guy," Sirianni said.

"Hopefully that's the biggest respect I can pay to him, comparing his ability to being on the field to a Michael Jordan type. This guy leads. He brings this calmness to the entire team. He plays great football. He's as tough as they come."

A prime contender for the league's MVP award, the 24-year-old Hurts compiled a 112.2 passer rating, the third-highest in Eagles playoff history. He became just the second quarterback in Eagles playoff history (Donovan McNabb) to throw for two touchdowns and run for another.

Hurts and the offense set the tone immediately. On the second play from scrimmage, Hurts loosened up the Giants' defense with a pinpoint accurate throw on a deep over route to DeVonta Smith. Hurts later converted a third-down play with a throw to wide receiver A.J. Brown and capped off the drive with a touchdown toss to tight end Dallas Goedert, who made a spectacular one-handed grab on the run.

The Eagles were up 7-0 and never looked back.

"I think it was very important for us to come out and start fast," Hurts said. "As a football team, we just came out and played with a lot of energy. We prepared really well throughout the week, and you're always talking about challenging everybody to play their best ball.

"I truly never put a limit on myself and I never put a limit on what this team can do, so there's always more out there for us to get. To come out there and play the way that we did tonight, I'm proud of this group, I'm proud of this team, and I'm proud of the preparation that we put into getting to where we are. There is a lot to be grateful for, but it was earned during the week. I'm excited to have another opportunity to play for something big again."

The last time Eagles fans were treated to the full Jalen Hurts experience was over a month ago, as the All-Pro quarterback suffered a shoulder injury in the December 18 win at Chicago. Hurts missed two games and battled through the injury to do just enough in the Week 18 win over the Giants to secure home-field advantage. The bye week allowed Hurts to get to a point where he wasn't even listed on the injury report for this week, but would he be the player who took the league by storm this season?

No wonder Sirianni couldn't hold back the lavish praise following the 38-7 win.

"You work really hard for these opportunities. They're not a dime a dozen," Hurts said. "You work really hard for them, and I'm just very eager to continue to grow. I'm eager to go through anything and everything with this group.

"It's a special thing, it's a special feeling, and it's a special type of togetherness that we have, and I don't think it's something that I've experienced quite like this for sure on the NFL level. We just want to continue to grow together, hold each other accountable, and believe in one another. I think we just came out hungry. That's what it was." - Chris McPherson, 4:30 PM, January 22, 2023

Kenny G makes sweet music in his first 100-yard performance

Name the Eagles' leading rusher on Saturday night.

Miles Sanders? Good guess, 90 yards on 17 carries to the tune of 5.3 yards per run. But guess again.

Boston Scott, Giant slayer? He had a touchdown - the 11th of his career against New York, including playoffs. But not him.

Jalen Hurts? Sure, he scored a rushing touchdown, but maybe the fourth time's the charm?

The Eagles' 268-yard rushing output, second most in franchise playoff history and 41 more yards than the Giants had accumulated the entire game offensively, was led by second-year running back Kenneth Gainwell. The third-down specialist had his first 100-yard performance, churning out 112 yards on 12 carries (9.3 yards per pop) and putting an exclamation point on the win with a 35-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, keyed by an outstanding block by wide receiver Zach Pascal.

"I'm extremely happy for him," Sanders said. "First 100-yard rushing game in a playoff game is big and I don't think he knows how big that is, but I'm going to make sure he does, but I'm proud of him. He runs hard, catches the ball well, and he's helping us be better all around too."

Prior to Saturday night, Gainwell's career best was a 78-yard outing in the regular-season finale of his rookie season against Dallas. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound Gainwell had 240 rushing yards and four touchdowns this year on 53 carries.

"I can't thank the O-line enough," Gainwell said.

The Eagles piled on 253 yards on the ground back in the Week 14 meeting against the Giants and kept at it on Saturday night with New York - 27th in run defense during the season - unable to stop it.

After getting an early 7-0 on the game's opening drive, the Eagles dominated the ground game behind its all-star offensive line and "1-2-3 punch," as Gainwell calls it, at running back.

Second drive (TD): 3 runs to open drive, 6 total in 8 plays

Fourth drive (TD): 7 runs to open drive, 8 in 8 plays

Fifth drive (TD): 4 runs to open drive, 7 in 14 plays

By this point, it was 28-0 at halftime.

"It's just a mentality," Sanders said. "When we know we're going to get a chance to run the ball, the whole line and running backs, we take it upon ourselves to just make a statement every time. It was a great job all across the board." - Chris McPherson, 1:30 PM, January 22, 2023

Lane Johnson 'a warrior' in his return to the field

Lane Johnson was the only right tackle who did not allow a quarterback hit or a sack all season.

After missing the final two-plus games of the regular season with a groin injury, Johnson may not have been 100 percent, but he played at an elite level as the Eagles amassed 416 yards of total offense, 268 yards on the ground (second most in franchise playoff history), 26 first downs in Saturday night's win.

Oh, and for the record, Johnson had a clean stat sheet, not allowing so much as a quarterback pressure in 27 pass protection snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

"He's a warrior," quarterback Jalen Hurts said. "He's a true warrior and a very important piece of this team. He's been doing great things for a very long time, and I'm very grateful to have him. We're grateful to have him and I'm happy that he's kind of coming out of this thing clean."

Defensive end Brandon Graham, a fellow captain who has battled the three-time All-Pro tackle in practice since Johnson was the No. 4 overall pick in 2013, admired watching his teammate from the sideline.

"I got so much respect for Lane. I love Lane," Graham said. "If anything, you see how tough he is because that ain't easy and I saw him out there today looking like Lane. I was like, 'Boy, I know he hurting.' He put on a smile through it and he did a great job today. I can't wait to watch the film to see what I missed on certain stuff that I didn't see." - Chris McPherson, 11:30 AM, January 22, 2023

Which jersey will the Eagles wear on Saturday night?

The Eagles will wear their midnight green jerseys with white pants for Saturday night's NFC Divisional Round showdown against the New York Giants.

Looking for an X-factor on Saturday? Consider DT Milton Williams

Maybe it's because he's healthy. Or that he's gained some knowledge, confidence, and more of an edge since the Eagles add some veterans at his position. Could be that it has just clicked for second-year defensive tackle Milton Williams, who has taken advantage of his reps in the deep and talented rotation in the middle of Philadelphia's defense.

"I know this," he said on Thursday at his NovaCare Complex locker, "I feel good out there. I can't wait to get on the field and make something happen."

Williams has played some of his best football since the bye week in mid-October, with has 4 quarterback sacks, 9 tackles for loss, 5 quarterback hits, and 29 combined tackles in those 11 games. Even with the additions of Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh, Williams has continued to be a presence with his quickness off the ball and his strength and technique in winning his one-on-one battles.

If you're looking for an under-the-radar factor for Saturday's NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the New York Giants, consider Williams. He has played 36 percent of the defensive snaps this season, his second after the Eagles made him a third-round draft choice in 2021, and going against a New York offense that wants to establish the running game, Williams could be a key factor.

"Man, you know I'm just trying to take advantage of the opportunities and make people notice when I'm on the field," Williams said. "Just trying to make a splash play whenever I'm out there. Everything is kind of clicking for me. I feel it when I'm out there and it's a great feeling. I've been picking up a lot in the film room, looking for tendencies and then when I go out on the field, I try to hit them and win my matchup."

Adding Joseph and Suh to the defensive line room has helped everybody because the two veterans have seen it all, and the way they work brings a new dimension and perspective to the room. Perhaps some expected Williams to fade into the background when those two players arrived to give the Eagles six defensive tackles on the 53-man roster, but Williams has continued to shine.

It's all part of the growth process in this league.

"Sometimes it's just instincts. You're out there and you just make a play and you realize that it's years and years of playing football and you understand why it happens," he said. "Having Linval and Suh here, I'm learning all the time. Them coming here, I know people on the outside said that it would mean less for me, but I took it as a chance to work even harder on me, on my technique, everything that comes with me being on the field. It's paid off. It's helped me take that next step.

"Now it's the playoffs and we know New York. They looked good last week. This week, it's a new ballgame, a new opponent. I know we will be ready for what they do, the challenge they bring." - Dave Spadaro, January 19 at 1:40 PM

DeVonta Smith wants to 'step it up' in the postseason

In his first playoff appearance, wide receiver DeVonta Smith caught 4 passes for 60 yards in the loss last season to Tampa Bay and he came away hungry for more. A National Champion at the University of Alabama, Smith made a smooth transition to the NFL in 2021 and he's taken it a step beyond in 2022.

He wants to do the same on Saturday night and throughout this postseason.

"It helps a lot, just learning from the mistakes we made last year, not being on the same page and things like that," Smith said. "So, going into this game, it's important that we're on the same page and not having any miscommunications and playing our game."

Smith admitted that the playoff stage is different and that it takes a minute to get used to because of the way the NFL adapts and adjusts, but that isn't a problem any longer. He knows what to expect. And he knows what it takes to have success.

"The speed and the tempo and things are the same, it's just that the opponents are better and they've found their identities. Teams do different things, whatever helps them be successful," Smith said. "If you played a team early in the season, it's not going to be the same team when you play them again. You've got to be ready to step it up."

Smith watched "the majority" of the first weekend of playoff football, seeking out friends from around the league he could root for and also, as a football player, how he would handle certain situations.

"As a football player, when situations come up, you think, 'What would you do?'" he said. "That's how I watched the games. It was a combination of watching friends and watching for different situations." - Dave Spadaro, January 18 at 5:45 PM

James Bradberry 'not surprised' by Daniel Jones' success

For two seasons with the Giants, cornerback James Bradberry shared in the frustration of a franchise that had not reached the postseason since 2016 campaign and he watched the maturation of quarterback Daniel Jones who, Bradberry said on Wednesday, was always diligent in the way he prepared even during some very tough times.

"There were injuries along the offensive line and in the receiving corps and when you don't have a healthy O-line for a quarterback, it's hard to get settled and get comfortable back there," Bradberry said. "Now, he looks like a very, very good quarterback who takes care of the ball. I know that in the past, he had issues with turnovers and whatnot. And the fact that he's not turning over the ball, he's making plays with his legs, too, that's a recipe for winning and that's what they've been doing."

Bradberry said he "had a lot of respect" for Jones and the way the Giants' No. 1 draft pick in 2019 draft pick handled the beatings he was taking, the injuries he incurred, and the losses and boos that mounted.

"He came, week in and week out, no matter if we won or lost, he came with the same mindset," Bradberry said. "He was sitting in the front of the room, he was always taking notes, and he was always paying attention. That was one thing I noticed about him. He didn't always say a whole lot, but he definitely works hard throughout practice. You could just tell. He really, really tries. And that's all you can ask for from any player. He gives you his best effort.

"You're supposed to be talented, and when you're the quarterback of a franchise, you're supposed to be the guy and whatnot, but sometimes it doesn't always go your way. But as long as you come in and do your best, you can't control the outside variables. I'm not surprised by what he's doing. I knew he was always capable of it. It was about getting all the pieces together and working." - Dave Spadaro, January 18 at 5:45 PM

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